The wonders of Fomes fomentarius

By Mary Perkins

The fungus Fomes fomentarius (“tinder fungus”), though easy to pass without notice, has an array of wondrous qualities that should be recognized. These range from wood degraders, fire starters, clothing, weaponry, and medicinal uses. It has a long history of being used all around the globe, even dating back to the 5,000 year old Iceman, Otzi.

Lifestyle of the Fungi

Fomes fomentarius is a dark gray hoof-shaped (Lincoff, 1991) saprotrophic (lives on dead organic matter) fungus that grows on dead wood or wounded trees, mainly hardwoods, “. . . particularly fond of birch trees, although other trees, including firs, can be the host,” (Stamets, 2002). The most important role this polypore (the fertile tissue is composed of many pores rather than gills) fungus plays in ecology is the break-down of wood. It has the capability of degrading lignin, as a white rot. Wood is a very hard substance that only certain fungi can break down, Fomes fomentarius being one of them. They help rid the forest floor of litter, acting as nature’s recycler. Imagine how high a pile trees can reach if they were not decomposed. Not only do they clean up the forest floor, they help soften wood to make it possible for insects and nesters, such as birds and squirrels, to inhabit the trees (Bunnell & Houde. 2010).

Uses of Fomes fomentarius

Humans have had an intimate relationship with Fomes fomentarius for many years. They have utilized this fungus for medicinal purposes, carrying embers, fire starters, weaponry, and even clothing. The Okanagan-Colville natives used the fungus to make antimicrobial teas and poultices to treat infections and arthritis (Stamets, 2002). It was used to cauterize wounds by Laplanders and the Cree to treat frostbite (Rogers, 2011). The entire fruiting body can be hollowed out to carry embers while travelling from one camp tfomes hato another. The inside of the fungus can be dried and is easy to light with only a spark. The fungus was also used to discharge guns, from the spark of the flint, to the fungus, to the gunpowder (Stamets. 2002). When the fruiting body is smashed it becomes felt-like, usable for clothing materials, such as this fashionable hat, (see photo).

Evidence of the use of the tinder fungus has been found dating as far back as the Iceman, Otzi. A 5,000 year old mummy was found, preserved in ice, with his clothing and tools. Among these objects was Fomes fomentarius along with flints, as part of his, “fire-making kit,” (Moore et. al, 2013). It is amazing to think that the same use of the same fungus has been in practice for so many years, covering a vast area and peoples. We are similar beyond borders.

The tinder fungus plays many roles. It is important to forest ecology as well as beneficial to humans. It is a decomposer and a homemaker. It can be weaponized or create warmth and healing. It may not be a pretty fungus but there is more than meets the eye.


Arora, D. 1986. Mushrooms demystified. New York: Random House

Bunnell, F. L., & Houde, I. (2010). Down wood and biodiversity – implications to forest practices. Environmental Reviews, 18(1), 397-421. doi:10.1139/A10-019

Lincoff, G., Knopf, A. 1991.The Audubon society field guide to North American mushrooms. New York: Knopf

Moore, D., Robson, G.D., Trinci, A.P.J. 2013. 21st century guidebook to fungi. New York: Cambridge University Press

Rogers, R. 2011. Fungal pharmacy. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books

Stamets, P. 2002. MycoMedicinals An informal treatise on mushrooms. Hong Kong: Colorcraft Ltd.

Vetrovsky, T., Voriskova, J., Snajdr, J., Gabriel, J., and Baldrian, P. (2011) Ecology of coarse wood decomposition of saprotrophic fungus Fomes fomentarius. Biodegradation, 22(4), 709-718 doi: 10.1007/s10532-010-9390-8

Albatrellus ovinus

By Marcus Goodman

Few things are pursued with such a broad spectrum of enthusiasm as gaining an understanding of the Kingdom Fungi. Loathed by as many as are enthralled by them, fungi in their fruiting form have an effect on some which can border on the maniacal. Some are intrigued by kingdom Fungi’s complexities which have enabled similar morphological traits to converge as well as separate across phyla. Others are more entranced by the mystical, spiritual and medical benefits. A quality alleged by some of the kingdom Fungi. Some just love the pretty colors; while others have more gastronomical hopes in mind. The latter is where my interest seems to be most prevalent, and it was in this pursuit I first encountered Albatrellus ovinus (Shaeff).


Photo by Author H. Crisp

I was enjoying an extended season as a budding mycophagist in the Quinault Lake region of Washington State over Thanksgiving weekend. This region hadn’t yet experienced the fungi-fruit killing frosts experienced by most of western Washington earlier in November. Consequently, many fungi-fruiting bodies were in prime form for the picking—Hydnum repandum, Hydnum umbilicatum, Tricholoma magnivelare, Sparassis crispa, Hericium abietis, Craterellus tubaeformis, were just a few edible species present or abundant. I was on my way home from visiting a Western Red Cedar bog, a pretty rare biological community found in the Quinault area of the temperate rainforest, when I first noticed large white-buff-yellow fruiting bodies in the vicinity of old growth Tsuga heterophylla. At first, glance I almost walked right on by, potentially mistaking them for similar-looking Tricholomas I’ve had difficulty identifying this year. One thing I’ve learned with mushrooms: don’t assume anything, and if something catches your eye, don’t hesitate to investigate—you never know what you’ll find.

Here’s what I observed:

  • Habitat:  Old growth Tsuga heterophylla dominated forest. 85% canopy Gaultheria shallon, Polystichum munitum, Vaccinium ovatum dominant shrub/scrub Polytrichum spp., Kindbergia oregano, Holocomium splendens dominant groundcover
  • Growth Habit:   Scattered to gregarious
  • Substrate: Humicolus. Minimal soils present. Specimens found in isolated soil/hummus. Potentially decomposed wood present
  • General Characteristics:  Cap:8-16 cm.white-to-buff-to-light yellow, convex to plane with decurved to uplifeted margin. Cap surface dry, smooth, slightly scaled towards center. Margin even and regular. Cap flesh white, firm, dry-to-slightly moist, no apparent bruising, taste or smell.
  • Gills: Decurrent, pores, white-to-buff, smooth, minute
  • Stem: 0.5-2.5 cm thick, 3-8 cm long. White-to-buff. Central, equal to slightly clavate surface smooth at base to porous at decurrent pores. No mycelium observed at base.

You can imagine, as someone intent on maximizing the culinary benefits of my mycelial friends, I was more than intrigued at this finding. If it wasn’t for a full foraging bag of other known delectables, I would have gathered some for the table. As it was, I gathered none—planning on coming back in the morning for further investigation and observation. This decision was one I would come to regret.

All best laid plans are usually just that. Plans. The reality was an obscured series of days, blurred by a food coma that rendered all hopes of activities more than 20 minutes beyond a suitable napping location simply futile. How many mushroom foraging hopes have been shattered by the ubiquitous turkey on the days following Thanksgiving?

During rare moments of lucidity, I was able, through semi-conscious keying sessions, to use the standard mushroom literature for the Pacific Northwest: Mushrooms Demystified (Arora, 1986) and Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest (Trudell, Ammirati, 2009) to narrow the possibilities to genus Albatrellus, but without an actual specimen, the specific epithet proved elusive. Arora—the obligate mycophagist—declares (ovinus and associates) them edible when cooked well, but includes the disclaimer, “Large quantities can have laxative effects.” Ever creative with his descriptive terms, Arora uses—“okraceous”—for the flavor/texture/consistency. As usual, Trudell and Ammirati are silent on the matter. Although their general conclusion is our coastal specimens are A. avellaneus (Though not supported by Arora’s description) with A. ovinus apparently not occurring in our region. This inability to solidify the identity was further enabled as a result of the disproportionate napping activity.


Raija Tuomainen

However, after the weekend was over and I was back at home, I couldn’t stop thinking about the pale, firm, slightly moist, fleshy consistency of the one that got away. Absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder. What to do? Internet search time. Not a big fan of this, but there are a few locations with worthwhile and reliable information:

Like all things in the fungal kingdom, nothing is ever easy. However, if this was “Mission Difficult,” anyone could do it and there’d be less mushrooms in the woods, right? It turns out, A. ovinus is a highly regarded mushroom in the Scandinavian region—specifically Finland. This excited me, since I come from Finnish decent. Unfortunately, I can’t roll my rr’s. Because of this my grandma refused to teach me any Finnish beyond numbers 1-10, and some miscellaneous body parts I won’t mention here. All I could do was look at the pictures and dream. I finally gathered questionable, boiler plate mushroom guidance from an array of sources not worth citing:

  • Don’t consume A. ovinus with other mushrooms
  • Cook A. ovinus well
  • May cause a laxative effect
  • Don’t eat raw
  • May contain phenolic compounds (Dekermendjian, et al, 1997)
  • Becomes bitter with age
  • Slimy when cooked
  • Blah, blah, blah

I know I should always treat mushrooms with respect, especially one that may contain phenolic compounds, which is a chemical compound found in plants and some fungi, but the above comments seem to contradict the apparent delectability of the genus in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. As I sit here and gaze dreamily at all of the Googled images of this mushroom, many about to, or being eaten, I can’t help but want to know more. By next fall I’ll either have to learn Finnish, or give Albatrellus ovinus a taste test. So it goes with the kingdom fungi.


Arora, D. 1986. Mushrooms Demystified, Second Edition. Random House, Inc. New York.

Dekermendjian, K., Shan, R., Nielsen, M., Stadler, M., Sterner, O., Witt, M.R. 1997. The affinity to the brain dopamine D1 receptor in vitro of triprenyl phenols isolated from the fruit bodies of Albatrellus ovinus. European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. Vol. 32, Issue 4, pgs. 351-356.

Trudell, S., Ammirati, J.2009. Mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest. Timber Press, Inc. Portland OR.

Vrkoc, J., Budesinsky, M., Dolejs, L.1977. Phenolic meroterpenoids from the basidomycete Albatrellus ovinus. Phytochemistry.Vol 16, Issue, 9, pgs 14091411.

Ganoderma applanatum: The Artist’s Conk

By Alissa Overson

Fungus is a common part of our everyday life, whether or not we realize it. From the food in our kitchens, to the mushrooms in our yards, fungus is everywhere. There are about 100,000 species of described fungi, but recent estimates say that there are over 5 million species waiting to be described (Blackwell 2011)! Of those 100,000 known species of fungi, about 17,000 are mushrooms (Blackwell).

Many mushrooms have amazing qualities about them. One particularly interesting mushroom is the polypore Ganoderma applanatum, commonly known as the artist’s conk. Upon first glance, this mushroom might not look like much. It grows out of fallen logs or wounds in trees and forms a shelf-like knob. The top of the cap is pale brown with a white margin that leads into the white underside. Before touched, the pore surface (the underside of the mushroom) is a perfect white color (see fig. 1). After it is touched, the mushroom “bruises” and turns dark brown very quickly, making it easy to draw on! Artists use this mushroom as a canvas to etch beautiful illustrations on (see fig. 2). David Arora, author of Mushrooms Demystified, says that Ganoderma applanatum “makes an excellent medium for etching, or better yet, leaving cryptic messages in the woods”. Because Ganoderma applanatum is a perennial mushroom, a message left on this mushroom might be there for years to come!


Figure 1. Ganoderma applanatum growing our of a fallen hardwood log

Ganoderma applanatum comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. The mushroom pictured in Figure 1 was found near my home in Hoodsport, Washington, and is about 8 inches long. The pore surface is very flat, and I plan on making a drawing on it eventually. For now, I am letting it stay in the woods because once picked, there is a limited amount of time to draw on it before it will no longer bruise. This is another amazing feature of the fungus. Drawing on a fresh specimen and then drying it will naturally preserve your masterpiece. While this specimen is fairly small, artist’s conk can grow up to 20 inches! Although it is most commonly used as a canvas, the use of Ganoderma applanatum does not stop with artwork.

Etched ganoderma
Fig. 2. Drawing done on G. applanatum by artist Corey Corcoran. Click here to see more!

Ganoderma applanatum is also used for its medicinal properties. The genus Ganoderma is very important to China, which uses many different kinds of these mushrooms in medicine (Jong 1992). While it cannot be directly eaten because it it is too hard, the woody fruiting body can be boiled down into a tea and is used for its antiinflammatory, antitumor, and antibacterial properties. It is also said to help the respiratory system (Stamets 1999). The compounds found in many Ganoderma mushrooms have actually been studied and shown to greatly inhibit tumor growth in mice (Usui et al 1983). This is not just a home remedy!

Many polypores found in the Pacific Northwest are medicinal, and this is just one example. Our forests contain all kinds of fungi, and they can be used in many ways. I think that it is important to keep learning about fungi and how they can be used. Next time you are walking in the woods, keep an eye out for these inconspicuous mushrooms. Maybe you can leave a friendly message for the next hiker, draw a picture, or even harvest the mushroom to make some medicinal tea.
Works Cited
Arora, D. (1986). Mushrooms Demystified. (2 ed., pp. 576577). New York: Ten Speed Press.

Blackwell, M. (2011). The Fungi: 1, 2, 3 .. 5.1 million species? American Journal of Botany, 98(3), 426438.

Jong, S. C., Brimingham, J. M. (1992). Medicinal Benefits of the Mushroom Ganoderma. Advances in Applied Microbiology, 73, 108110.

Stamets, P., & Wu Yao , C. (1999). MycoMedicinals: An Informational Treatise on Mushrooms.

Usui, T., Iwasaki, Y., Mizuno, T., Tanaka, M., Shinkai, K., & Arakawa, M. (1983). Isolation and haracterization of antitumor active β glucans from the fruit bodies of Ganoderma applanatum. Carbohydrate Research, 115, 273280.